Posts about Adrian Fenty
Campaign finance violations in DC have triggered numerous federal investigations and corrupted DC's political process, but the vast majority of sitting DC councilmembers still seem unwilling to risk cutting off their own sources of money to fix a serious problem.
Amendments from Tommy Wells (Ward 6) on last year's ethics bill to ban "bundling" and corporate contributions failed on a 12-1 vote. Yesterday, Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced a bill to tackle these issues, with Wells co-introducing, but no other councilmembers agreed to co-sponsor.
None of the sitting councilmembers up for reelection signed onto a pledge by at-large candidate David Grosso to increase transparency in donations, and only Wells and Cheh have expressed support for a ballot initiative to ban corporate contributions. Having 11 of 13 councilmembers disinterested in campaign finance reform is unacceptable.
Serious flaws create serious scandals
Some of the biggest flaws in DC campaign finance involve corporate contributions. Corporate entities are allowed to directly give money to candidates in DC, unlike under federal campaign finance law. Worse, many corporate entities have multiple subsidiaries, such as developers who create a separate LLC for each project, and are allowed to donate up to the maximum from each of them separately.
This is very common in DC campaigns. The fact that so many incumbents garner much of their campaign cash this way may be why not a single other councilmember voted for Wells' amendments to ban the practice.
That's not the only problem with campaign finance, though perhaps the biggest legal loophole. There are also ongoing federal investigations into the campaigns of Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether the Gray campaign accepted numerous money orders that weren't really from separate individuals.
The District was reminded of those investigations in dramatic fashion this weekend when the FBI raided the offices of Jeffrey Thompson, who owns Chartered Health Plans, the District's largest contractor. He is also one of the most significant donors to district politicians.
Thompson and related entities have given more than $700,000 to various campaigns over the years, including massive sums to Gray, former mayor Adrian Fenty, and at-large councilmember Vincent Orange. The raids also targeted a public relations consultant to the Gray campaign.
Proposals seek to mend the system
Several reformists have emerged with concrete proposals to make campaign finance in the district more transparent and effective.
When Tommy Wells introduced his doomed campaign finance amendments to last year's ethics bill it seemed like his might be the lone voice for reform on the council. But today he joined Mary Cheh as the only cosponsor on her "Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2012."
According to a statement by Cheh's office, the bill would "prohibit pay-to-play, require disclosure of external fundraising activities, and... ban corporate contributions."
Meanwhile, the DC Committee to Restore Public Trust, led by activist and former council candidate Bryan Weaver and Ward 7 ANC commissioner Sylvia Brown, is pushing a ballot initiative that would ban direct corporate contributions to DC campaigns.
Organizers must collect over 22,000 signatures from registered DC voters to place the initiative on the November ballot. Volunteers plan to gather signatures at every polling place during the April 3 primary.
The initiative has garnered some high-profile backers. Councilmember Wells is providing organizational support and, while announcing her legislation, Councilmember Cheh said that she "wholeheartedly support the efforts of the District residents working on" the initiative. At-large candidates Peter Shapiro, Sekou Biddle, and David Grosso, as well as Ward 8 candidate Jacque Patterson, also have voiced support.
Several candidates running for DC Council in the April 3rd primary, May 5th special, and November 6th general elections are taking an additional step to show their commitment to campaign finance reform. Grosso, who is running for the independent at-large seat up for election in November and currently held by Councilmember Michael A. Brown, has proposed a "transparency challenge" to all council candidates.
The challenge asks candidates to proactively embrace campaign finance reform ideals by pledging to post information on their websites about the directors, managers, shareholders, and corporate structures of any companies that they receive donations from. Additionally, the challenge requires candidates to disclose the names of people who collect multiple donations for them as well as information on each individual donor.
So far, candidates Max Skolnik (Ward 4), Jacque Patterson (Ward 8), and Peter Shapiro (at-large) have pledged to join the challenge. Although, as of March 6, only Grosso has posted his information online. All participants are challenging sitting incumbents. So far, no incumbents have joined the challenge.
Incumbents fail to speak up or act
Unfortunately, aside from Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, most members of the DC Council seemed unconcerned with campaign finance issues and unlikely to act on reform before the upcoming elections.
Muriel Bowser, primary author of last years ethics bill and chair of the council's Committee on Government Operations, stated that she intended to take action on campaign finance. However, she has since defended herself for accepting corporate donations and argued against banning corporate money outright, making it unlikely that she will support Cheh's bill.
It seems even more unlikely that a majority of councilmembers will act on any sort of campaign finance reform. Several have spoken out against reform. Notably, yesterday morning Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) joked about his dislike of Cheh's legislation.
The rest of the council should work with Cheh and Wells to craft a bill that will reform the campaign finance system while still allowing participation from all engaged parties. DC should ban corporate bundling and strengthen disclosure rules, to make it more apparent who is donating and ensure that corporations do not skirt contribution limits. Contractors and other corporations that do business with the city should face even further restricted in order to avoid obvious conflicts of interest.
DC's politicians have proven all too willing to take advantage of weak campaign finance regulations. But it seems as though the city is becoming sick of it. The DC council should step up, fight against this culture of corruption, and bring corporate influence over elections back from the stratosphere and down to the height of individual influence.
Last year's mayoral race was a contentious one, and created many bad feelings on both sides. Even now, each time an issue comes up that even tangentially relates to Mayor Gray that's negative, a cadre of Fenty supporters gleefully post comments basically saying, "told you so."
In particular, many of the comments pertain to my personal endorsement for Gray. There are clearly some people who want me to repudiate that decision, and declare that I was wrong,
that Fenty was perfect, Gray 100% rotten to the core, that Gray has had his mind made up all along to oppose bike infastructure, or transit, or school reform, or better taxi service.
Nothing is that simple. I've definitely been disappointed by some of what's happened, especially the hiring scandals. But Gray's record on our issues has been generally good, though not perfect. Neither was Fenty's.
Don't forget that Fenty was supportive of progressive transportation until a campaign donor asked him to kill a planned sidewalk, and then suddenly he wasn't. Or all the development projects that went to poorly qualified developers, or his outright refusal to implement inclusionary zoning. Or Peter Nickles.
The Gray administration made a significant funding commitment to streetcars, and Gray has announced his desire to make DC a platinum-level bicycle-friendly city. On the other hand, he didn't keep Gabe Klein (but elevated his deputy) and his support for cycle tracks is tenuous.
A few comments aside, though, we still don't know if the decision to put L and M street cycle tracks on hold came from Gray, or Bellamy, or someone else. There are even people in the bicycle program at DDOT who aren't very enthusiastic about cycle tracks and are reluctant to move them ahead absent strong support from above.
Or, perhaps they'll move it with strong support from the public. Tommy Wells' chief of staff Charles Allen said they've gotten 1,054 emails supporting the cycle tracks. He's already supportive, but DDOT and the Mayor's office are getting the same emails.
When we got funding restored for streetcars, it wasn't because a bunch of people reacted to the news by saying that they wished we'd elected Kathy Patterson instead; they flooded Gray's office and got the policy reversed.
Before the election, I wrote,
I'm sure I will disagree with some of his decisions. But I disagree with a lot of what Fenty does. If, and when, Gray does something I think is wrong, I'll say so. I'll push him to be the best possible Mayor, to hire A+ people just like some of Fenty's appointments, but without some of the C- people Fenty also has in the mix.Gray has unfortunately not brought in as many A+ people as I'd hoped, or as many as Fenty did, though he also has fewer C- people. He perhaps has more in the B range than would be ideal.
Ironically, perhaps I think I've become more reluctant to "say so" when Gray has done something wrong because of the childish commenters. Hmm, perhaps they are really Gray supporters trying to dissuade any criticism of the mayor's actions.
Mary Cheh has also been taking a lot of heat for her support for Gray. That seems to have pushed her to become a sort of cross between Tom Smith and Jack Evans, standing up against residents having to endure the foulness of people between the ages of 18 and 22 living in their community and defending the rights of those people who make over $200,000 to avoid sharing anything with people who are losing access to housing and even basic food.
Meanwhile, we've made progress in policy. In the endorsement post, I also wrote,
[Gray] does want to roll back meter hours, though, but I believe after he learns more about parking he'd agree we should only roll them back in some areas and not others.In the last budget, we didn't hear a peep about this from the administration. Bellamy doesn't want to do it. Jack Evans and Muriel Bowser (Fenty supporters, by the way) were the main ones carrying water for that particular bad idea.
Many transportation subjects aren't among the few issues the mayor cares most about and has the strongest opinions about. He's open to suggestions and influence from his staff and from various groups of residents. We need to remind him that many people strongly support the cycle tracks, or whatever other policy we're discussing, and that it's also the right policy. We can do that more effectively if it's not overshadowed by whining about Adrian Fenty's loss.
No mayor is perfect. Maybe in the future we can elect someone that's better than both Fenty and Gray. We also could definitely have mayors who are far worse than either. We can keep dwelling on the past, or we can fight for a better DC. I'm going to keep my eye on the ball and hope you will too.
Addendum: If you believe that Gray is irrevocably opposed to what we believe and was just lying about it to get elected, then it's understandable that you might not think there's any point in lobbying him. Instead, all we can do is gripe about how it's too bad he was elected. But I don't believe that. Instead, he's open to a lot of things, but not always surrounded by people who push them. That means he needs to hear it from residents, and hear it often.
The DC Taxicab Commission has a problem dealing with reporters, but that's far from the only problem with the Commission. Does it need reform, or should it be abolished entirely?
Even before the current video imbroglio, there was widespread agreement that the Taxi Commission was broken. It simply skipped many meetings. It's supposed to set taxi policy, but Mayor Fenty took power away from the board.
Now, all of their decisions must go through a mayoral appointee who often simply doesn't implement their directives. That means a board is making decisions but lacks the power to carry them out.
The commission has 3 industry members, but currently they are representatives from hospitality industries, not from drivers directly. People differ on whether the taxi drivers should be directly represented, but at the moment they're in limbo, where they're supposed to have representation but don't.
Tommy Wells was already going to be tackling the Taxi Commission problems even before the recording incident. What should the Council do?
The more I watch DC government, the more I feel that these boards and commissions don't work. They have a significant role in setting policy, but the last two mayors, at least, haven't appointed people with an eye toward specific policy directions. Instead, they appoint people they know personally or big campaign donors.
Mayor Fenty, for instance, was widely considered more friendly to development interests than anti neighbors, and the actions of his Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development certainly reflected such a bias, often to an extreme. But when making appointments to the Zoning Commission, a board with enormous influence over development (arguably more than DMPED), he didn't seem to consider this at all.
This divorces policy too far from our elected officials. The Council or Mayor can set a policy direction for the city and voters can either elect or replace them because of it. But when policy is being made by people picked just for arbitrary reasons, there's no link from the people to the policy.
Many commissions take a lot of time, but don't pay members, dramatically limiting the range of people who can serve. Often that limits the field to either people with a professional interest in the issue, or retirees.
Government seems to work better when decisions are either made by the legislature, or by political appointees directly reporting to an elected executive. The elected legislators or executives might not always be very good, but at least people can throw them out of office if they're doing a sufficiently bad job.
Perhaps instead of a Taxi Commission, the agency should report to the Mayor like most other agencies. In fact, 2 current DCTC members are also DDOT employees, Scott Kubly and Ralph Burns, from the division overseeing the Circulator, streetcars and Capital Bikeshare. If the Mayor wants administration officials setting taxi policy, they could simply set it directly.
Should it be subsumed into an existing agency? The Taxicab Commission serves two roles. It sets taxi policy, such as fares and whether to limit supply with medallions. And it handles licensing and inspections for drivers.
The former function would best belong at DDOT. That agency already is setting transportation policy and can consider big picture issues like how to encourage taxis to serve areas of high demand and/or areas without good transit options. On the other hand, the latter function is closest to the current work of the DMV or DCRA.
DCTC's responsibilities could be split, with DDOT setting policy and the DMV or DCRA handling licensing. However, having other split functions has created problems in the past. Traffic and parking tickets, for instance, are written by MPD or DPW and enforced by the DMV under regulations formulated by DDOT. That's often created many problems where DDOT might set a rule but nobody enforces it, or tickets get written but nobody goes after drivers to collect the money.
If DDOT gets the job, it could create a whole large licensing role that DDOT hasn't had to handle and might turn into a distraction. On the other hand, if all of the responsibility goes to DCRA, then they might not think creatively about policy. DCRA and the DMV is structured to grant and monitor permits, and could have an inherent orienation toward not changing much.
Or, DCTC could remain its own agency but without a commission, instead having all responsibilities handled by mayoral appointees subject to laws passed by Council. Finally, the commission could stay, perhaps with added power to carry out its own decisions.
What do you think would work best?
Today we welcome Council candidate Joshua Lopez for a live chat. Lopez is a former Fenty campaign aide, and seems to be following a similar campaign strategy to that which got Fenty elected and taking strongly pro-Fenty (and anti-Gray) policy stances.
During his final two weeks in office, Mayor Adrian Fenty should publicly post all CapStat Action Item Reports that weren't yet released.
CapStat Action Items propose and require specific, measurable changes to agency operations "to make District government run more efficiently, while providing a higher quality of service to its residents."
Incoming Mayor Vincent Gray, volunteers on his transition team, and the DC Council could use these reports to assess in-progress and potential agency improvements. Furthermore, residents would gain insight into how District government dollars and time were invested to improve agency efficiency and resident quality of life. Residents could then offer feedback to Mayor Gray on changing or continuing these initiatives.
The posting of CapStat reports on DC.Gov occurred continuously from January 2007 until July 2008. The Fenty administration released 48 reports in 2007 (averaging 4.0 per month) and 22 reports in 2008 through July (averaging 3.1 per month). After a gap of several months, two reports were posted in April 2009. Other than those two reports as a brief exception, CapStat Action Item Reports have been regularly withheld from the public since late July 2008.
One week after Mayor Fenty took office, he conducted his first CapStat meeting. On January 11, 2007, the day after that meeting with two agency directors, seven expected action items and deadlines were posted online.
For Fenty, CapStat represented his commitment to expand upon the operational improvements put into motion by his predecessor, Mayor Anthony Williams. The program, run by Office of the City Administrator (OCA), displays an ambitious motto on its website: "CapStat: Building a City that Works."
Michael Neibauer (then with The Examiner) contributed to the favorable initial coverage of CapStat:
The Adrian Fenty administration is employing an "unremarkable but incredibly effective" tool to drive its focus on agency accountability, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said Tuesday: deadlines.Niebauer saw the value of these reports. Without missing a beat, Neibauer (after moving to Washington Business Journal) quickly noticed in 2008 when the Fenty administration stopped posting CapStat reports. He reached out to OCA and was first told that staffing constraints were the bottleneck. His later follow-up led to a less-than-congenial response from OCA: file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the documents. Niebauer did just that. His FOIA request was denied with the explanation that the reports "constitute records covered under the Deliberative Process Privilege."
One by one, agency directors are leaving routine accountability sessions, dubbed "CapStat," with a series of charges, each one tagged with a specific deadline they will be expected to meet.
By ending the public review of these documents, the Fenty administration transformed a top example of government transparency into an unfortunate case of withholding government records. No resident could believe that the District (or any other government entity) is beyond the need for some improvement. By not revealing CapStat results, residents are left with the perception that no effort is made to systematically analyze available data and improve government operations.
Richard Layman brings up an excellent point in this regard, writing, "My issue with the DC Government call center (311/online) is I never see any reports on what people call about. Do they sift out stuff and identify (and address) structural problems?"
CapStat data analysis, process improvements and deadlines that are invisible to residents can only support Layman's skepticism.
CapStat has been nationally recognized as an effective program to improve government operations and promote transparency. The program has addressed some concerns with high profile government responsibilities including snow removal, power outages, agency responsiveness and cross-border public safety issues. Government leaders and residents need to see what processes have been improved, which agencies have been successful (or not) with CapStat action items and what remains to be done by the next administration.
With tight budgets continuing and a new administration preparing its priorities, Mayor Fenty should do everything possible to support the transition. Posting all CapStat reports will help.
The Georgetown Dish posted a video yesterday of Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray (and Leo Alexander) answering a parking question at a Friday debate.
From sonya bernhardt on Vimeo.
Both Fenty's and Gray's answers encompass their views on many transit issues, and both are very reassuring. Fenty defends the "science" of creating "turnover" in parking, and Gray defends "smart growth" and "transit-oriented development."
Editor's note: If you're completely sick of politics by now, the rest of the posts today (barring some unforeseen change) will be covering interesting urbanist topics unrelated to politics. So go vote early, then come back to talk about parks, road safety and more.
Dan's and Ken's.
I have confidence in the policies we advocate here on Greater Greater Washington. They're not helping one group at the expense of another, but best for DC as a whole. Vince Gray will thoughtfully listen to opinions and then pick the best course of action. Because I'm confident that will fit with our ideas when we can back them up, I'm voting for Vince Gray tomorrow.
Gray has said he's for Smart Growth. He has made clear that he's for bike lanes, and his comments about the Pennsylvania Avenue lane were about process, not about the value of lanes. At Thursday's sustainability forum, he also confirmed that he supports bus lanes despite how he'd been quoted in the past. He's repeatedly insisted he's for streetcars.
He does want to roll back meter hours, though, but I believe after he learns more about parking he'd agree we should only roll them back in some areas and not others.
If he's elected mayor, I intend to hold him to these promises, and push him to make real progress. I'll organize people on the blog and in person to rally to continue the valuable Fenty initiatives and to engage on some of the necessary issues that the Fenty administration has neglected.
I'm sure I will disagree with some of his decisions. But I disagree with a lot of what Fenty does. If, and when, Gray does something I think is wrong, I'll say so. I'll push him to be the best possible Mayor, to hire A+ people just like some of Fenty's appointments, but without some of the C- people Fenty also has in the mix.
As Council Chair, Gray was always straightforward about his beliefs. He listened to everyone, often in many hearings, but then he took the position he thought was right. He didn't tell one group he agreed with them and then vote another way. If he says he's now thought about transportation and development issues and decided he supports bike lanes, streetcars and more, then I believe him.
I care about having an executive branch that actually respects the legislature and tries to follow laws. I care about sunshine and honesty in the government. And I care about not leaving groups of residents out of economic progress.
A friend recently encapsulated the race in a great way: Fenty and Gray both share a vision for a "world-class city," which has good schools, a strong tax base including more residents and more jobs besides the government, more transportation choices besides driving, and a healthy and prosperous populace. Fenty is focused on getting us there as fast as possible, and if some people are left behind, well, a rising tide lifts all boats. Gray, meanwhile, will focus a little bit more on getting us there together. And getting there together is important to me.
Gray will push early childhood education and community college education a little harder than Fenty has. When a piece of public property is being sold off for development, Gray will push a little more for a good project with meaningful community support instead of just getting a deal signed as fast as possible. That will mean fewer projects on public land, but it will also probably mean better projects.
I'm voting for Gray tomorrow because I believe Gray has been honest about supporting the policies we like, and will come to the right conclusions after listening to us and to everyone else as well. If he wins, I'll push him through insiders and from the blog to hire the best people and keep some of the best Fenty people on, and then keep pushing him as mayor to do the right thing for everyone in DC.
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch
- Can Loudoun grow while protecting its rural areas?
- Silver Spring mall could get massive facelift, new name